Interview with opposition MP Beyene Petros

Beyene Petros is a prominent opposition MP in southern Ethiopia. At present he heads the Council of Alternative Forces for Peace and Democracy. Here he tells IRIN about opposition plans for a national conference to try and form a united front against the current coalition government, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

QUESTION: How unified and effective is the opposition here in Ethiopia?

ANSWER: There is a need for some kind of coalition approach – common positions for some issues. We need to discuss the future of Ethiopia. We have a total of nine seats in the federal parliament. There are another three opposition MPs. Effectively the rest of the 548 MPs are with the government. The bone-fide opposition is 12 out of 548...There is no effective opposition.

Q: Is this why you are trying to hold an opposition coalition conference?

A: It is an all-party opposition conference to discuss issues that we feel are blocking progress and democratisation. This is only for opposition groups. We hope to have the conference in December or early 2003. We hope to bring together the opposition. There is extreme fragmentation within the opposition. We need a strategic plan and tactical alliances and targeting certain regions to work as an effective opposition. To set up an opposition, to incorporate all the political parties including the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). Let's find the minimum common agenda and work from that.

Q: But even with all the opposition forces you still have relatively few seats in parliament so how can that help?

A: Take the situation in the south. The EPRDF is totally beaten and the population has rejected them there. Deep inside they are seriously concerned. But we are unable to win seats because of corruption by local officials. The National Election board is window dressing; the elections are still not fair here. All political parties are using their local muscle to stop other parties operating in their areas. We need to stop this. For our MPs to get in power, 20 people were sacrificed, lost their lives in winning those seats.

Q: What changes is your organisation specifically looking for?

A: The electoral process has to be changed. All political parties who want to be part of the electoral process should register and must be allowed to register. We are told if we think the elections are unfair by European observers to abstain. But this does not help. We are not asking for soft treatment.

Q: What are the main problems in the southern region at the moment?

A: At the moment there is a total neglect of the region. That is what we have to address. In terms of land mass the southern region is around one fourth and in population around 20 percent. The land policy at the moment does not work. The collapse of coffee prices means that agricultural led development will not work.